Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion: Shivering Isles

Although Bethesda has released a number of downloadable content packs for its sprawling RPG-epic, Oblivion, the Shivering Isles represents the first true expansion that has been packaged and sold separately.

Considering that it's meant to augment one of the most content-rich games ever created, you can't help but have high expectations for Shivering Isles, and thankfully it delivers on every count.

This Way Lies Madness

The expansion is set in the realm of the Daedric Prince Sheogorath, who also carries the distinction of being the god of madness. His realm is split into two halves, with Mania to the north and Dementia to the south. Each half has its own distinct art and architectural style; Mania is highly colorful, with giant mushroom-like plants and beautiful vistas while Dementia is more dark and dreary, with hanging dead trees and a bluish cast to the environment.

The bifurcated nature of the realm is reflected in all aspects of the game. For example, a large number of the quests require you to side with one side or the other, with differing consequences and rewards, and these quests often require vastly differing approaches. A Mania quest will require you to resort to stealth and intrigue, while the corresponding Dementia quest will be almost purely combat-oriented. This provides a nice amount of variety regardless of the type of character the player has.

What Is Old Is New, And Vice Versa

The Shivering Isles offers up a significant chunk of topography to explore, and you're not allowed to bring a horse into the isles, making the realm seem even larger. There are many new alchemical ingredients, new dungeons, new monsters and new equipment to be found across the land. One new feature is the ability to collect Amber or Madness Ore that can be traded in to smiths in exchange for new custom armor pieces. Matrices can also be collected for each piece to provide an enchanted version, providing an extensive collection quest as you try to collect a fully enchanted version of either armor set.

However, while the new art and content mentioned above is significant, the core gameplay remains the same; there are no new skills or game mechanics. Even the game music is recycled, and with the exception of some new voice talent, the NPCs have familiar voices. It's hard to fault the game for this--it is an expansion, after all--but it would have been nice to at least feel like we were meeting new people, rather than simply encountering old characters with new skins and dialogue.

Expansive Expansion

Thankfully, the main quest, which involves saving the Shivering Isles from the Daedric Prince of Order and his servants, still manages to be compelling, despite the fact that it's just more of the same. The quests here range from killing a seemingly indestructible giant Frankenstein, to reactivating the mad god's torture chamber and then using it on a group of adventurers while deciding whether you want to drive each one insane or kill him in a creative way.

Even the side quests are inventive and interesting, such as helping a depressed citizen of Dementia commit suicide and finding an NPC named "Big Head" his magical fork. Given that quite a few quests also have multiple paths through them, this adds up a lot of engaging content. In short, the expansion delivers on the best parts of the core game: imaginative and immersive quests that really take advantage of the immense, open setting.

We should note, however, that while the vast majority of the quests are a lot of fun, there are a few that seem forced and out of place. This is especially true in the latter stages of the main quest, when you encounter a number of tasks that were plainly added to simply stretch out your playing time.

Despite this misstep, Shivering Isles is an impressive expansion for what was already an expansive game. It delivers more of what made Oblivion great: creative quests, a huge land to explore, and tons of things to do there, making this expansion is a solid purchase for anyone who was a fan of the core game.

Pros: Offers up more of the same great gameplay that made Oblivion such a huge success.
Cons: Some of the quests are mediocre. A lot of the voice acting is recycled.

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